One of the first things newly elected GPSA President Lorena Olmos says she will do is begin working on outreach programs that would encourage more graduate student government participation.
Olmos was elected president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association last week, defeating opponent Aaron Kugler by a vote of 149 to 137.
"I was kind of sick the day I found out, so I am not sure whether I was reacting because I was sick or because I was very excited and very nervous," Olmos said. "I'm really happy about it, but I know there is a lot of work to be done."
Olmos is a law and graduate student in Latin American Studies, while Kugler is a first-year law student. She worked with the GPSA Council and the Student Research Allocation Committee during the past year, while Kugler was on the Finance Committee and was a former undergraduate student government senator.
"I'm happy for her, and I think she will do a great job next year," Kugler said of Olmos.
He added that he was surprised by the low margin of victory, but said that he would definitely remain active in GPSA despite the loss.
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Anne Murray, who was the Elections Committee chair, said she had hoped for a better turnout but added that she was pleased that the election ran smoothly. Both constitutional amendments passed with overwhelming favor, and the Council Chair Bill Dials' re-election by council members rounds out this year's changes in graduate student government.
Murray has strongly suggested that GPSA and ASUNM work to establish online voting.
"Voting over the phone and at the polling places is fine, but I think turnout would approve dramatically by adding the online component," she said.
Estimates of the cost of moving to Web-based voting have varied from $2,000 to relatively little with software already available, Murray said.
The relatively low voter turnout, which was lower than recent years, and narrow margin of victory has prompted the new president to renew her focus on student apathy.
"I think that one specific thing that I would like to do at the beginning of the school year is have a mixer, cookout picnic with current and incoming students," Olmos said. "And I would like to do that by means of invitation and welcome note saying that GPSA is here, these are the services we provide and this is why we want you to get involved."
Olmos also plans to reach out to students by sponsoring two summer townhall meetings. The first would be open to discussing all graduate student concerns, while the second would address Student Research Allocation Committee funding. Olmos said her conversations with peers who have and have not receive funding through the program led to her decision to scrutinize the funding process.
"It's one of the biggest funds we have and it's how most graduate students know GPSA," she said.
Olmos added that she is concerned about the common complaint that biology and anthropology students tend to receive more research funding than students in other fields.
"Since biology students are using it for field work, it makes sense to fund them, but the process is just tougher on law students and others going to conferences that are just as essential to their professional development," she said.
The possibility of splitting up the fund into two sections, with one focusing on research and the other on travel to conferences is one idea Olmos is considering.
"I just don't like that we are turning students away who deserve the chance to get valuable experience when we are already trying to improve student involvement," she said.